Institutions of higher learning might soon be prohibited from making it illegal to carry concealed firearms on campus.
Michigan House of Representatives Bill 5474 — introduced by state Rep. Wayne Schmidt (R–Traverse City) — would supersede a University ordinance that makes the entire campus weapons-free, according to Diane Brown, Department of Public Safety spokeswoman.
However, the legislation would not overturn a state law already in effect which prohibits concealed firearms in certain places like classrooms, dormitories and arenas, according to Brown.
State Rep. James Bolger (R–Marshall), who co-introduced the bill, said it aims to eliminate inconsistencies in concealed firearms policies across the state.
For example, Bolger said, if a concealed pistol license holder passed through a college campus without the intention of getting out of his car, he could be stopped by a police officer for violating the weapons-free ordinance on campus under the current law.
“Now, that law-abiding citizen (would have) no idea of this,” Bolger said. “So this is the type of situation we’re looking to address.”
Bolger said because the bill does not change the rules for weapons-free areas like residence halls and classrooms on campus, he doesn’t believe the law would increase guns or violence on college campuses.
“I would argue all of this brings college campuses in compliance with the rest of the state,” he said. “I think people want to envision somehow this law would mean you’d have guns in classrooms or dormitories, or all over in campus. I really argue that it’s not going to do that.”
But Brown said the bill poses several safety issues for college campuses, pointing out that alcohol consumption paired with more guns could pose serious risks.
“I think essentially guns on college campuses don’t mix,” Brown said. “It’s an educational environment and … young people shouldn’t have to worry about what’s happening around them.”
While the bill would not change the pistol-free zones like classrooms, Brown said the definition of a classroom is an ambiguous one, since instructors often hold classes outside in the Arboretum or on the Diag.
“So if you extended the idea that you don’t want guns in a classroom, then a piece of that ought to extend much broader on a college campus setting,” Brown said.
“Then you can even look at it as a workplace issue and being in the workplace,” Brown continued. “Obviously you want to make it safe and secure and that wouldn’t be consistent with allowing guns on campus.”
Brown said she doesn’t think the bill is necessary because there have been so few firearms violations over the past few years.
“And we certainly haven’t had a lot of controversy or problems in the years we’ve had the weapons-free campus,” she said. “It hasn’t seemed to be particularly difficult to understand. In several years it’s been less than half a dozen violations with that law.”
With this bill, the potential for more violent situations could arise, Brown said.
“If you don’t allow guns, then there’s less likelihood that something could escalate from an argument into something much more violent,” Brown said. “The bottom line: we believe guns should be used only by those who are fully trained in their use — law enforcement officials — especially on a college campus.”
DPS Executive Director Ken Magee testified last week that the bill would create a more dangerous campus environment in front of the Committee on Tourism, Outdoor Recreation and Natural Resources, which is considering the legislation, according to Brown.
Unlike DPS, Michigan’s State Police have a neutral official stance on the bill, according to First Lt. Matt Bolger, legislative liaison for the Michigan State Police.
Matt Bolger said the purpose behind the bill is to make firearms laws consistent across all areas of the state by treating universities as equivalent to cities, towns and all other local governmental units.
“It’s not so much about allowing guns on campuses, as it (is) treating campuses like any other units of government in the state,” Matt Bolger said.
He said he didn’t think there would be increased risk of violence as a result of the bill’s passage, and that it would serve to make firearm laws uniform across the state.
“We had a few very upset phone calls from individuals that realized that some universities in Michigan have ordinances making it a misdemeanor to do something the state says you can legally do,” Matt Bolger said. “It just caught them in consternation.”
The bill now awaits a vote by the committee, which James Bolger said is very likely to pass the bill.
If passed by the committee, the bill would move to the full House, where James Bolger said he thinks it again has a good chance of passing.
In interviews, University students had mixed reactions to the bill.
Some students, like LSA and Education junior Sierra Cain, think eliminating the University’s gun-free ordinance would create a more dangerous environment on campus.
“I wouldn’t feel safe walking around campus,” Cain said. “Across campus, now, I feel like I can walk around by myself most of the time except for late at night. But knowing that people could be concealing firearms by law, be permitted to do that, I wouldn’t feel comfortable at all. Ann Arbor’s a really safe town and why would you endanger that?”
But other students like LSA sophomore Amanda Laurent said as long as the bill doesn’t change the pistol-free zones like classrooms and residence halls, it would be acceptable.
“I think that’s perfectly fine,” Laurent said. “I mean, it’s part of our rights as citizens. As long as it’s not allowed in the classrooms … I think it’s perfectly fine.”